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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK

Living with fear in Pristina

The BBC's Michael Voss talks to Alexander Simovic and his family, Kosovo Serbs who continue to live in Pristina.

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A Serbian house goes up in flames in the capital, Pristina. For those Kosovo Serbs who decided to stay when NATO troops arrived, life has not been easy.

Alexander Simovic worked for the local postal and telecommunications company before the bombing campaign began. He has no job to go back to, but doesn't want to leave the land of his fathers. Unlike many, he does accept that dreadful atrocities were committed against ethnic Albanians.

Alexander Simovic on Serbian life in post-war Kosovo
"Many, many houses have been burned actually; it's kind of revenge, but the revenge is revenge on innocent people, people who weren't doing anything wrong to Albanians during the bombing."

"Some of people I've heard made me feel like only sick man could do things like that.

"No one from the Serbian regular police and no one from regular army did disgusting and awful things. I'm sure that the crimes of the Serbian army and Serbian police were committed by paramilitaries and by the reserve army.

"Those people are far away now. Nowadays ordinary Serbian people are taking all the consequences from Serbian politics."

Living in fear

Alexander took me home to the apartment he shares with his parents. Both his brothers have left for Belgrade. His mother, Mica, is preparing a simple lunch of chicken and potatoes.

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It's a frugal existence; there's little money, but the overriding emotion in this home is fear. Like thousands of elderly Serbs here, Mica Simovic hasn't left her home since the war ended.

Before, it was the NATO bombs which left her shaking with fear; now even a neighbour ringing the doorbell is enough to make her jump.

"When someone rings the bell, we are afraid it might be an Albanian coming to get us. It's like prison; I'm afraid to go out shopping. The Albanians won't serve me; my husband goes out instead and doesn't speak a word in case he's recognised as a Serb. He just points and takes."

Alexander's father, Stefan, is a broken man. A bank employee who was nearing retirement, he's worried that his job has gone, along with his pension rights.

Many have turned to religion

There's no Serbian television or radio in Kosovo right now. Mr Simovic spends his days sitting, staring into space. He tried to describe the past few weeks to me, but it was all too much to bear.

The orthodox church here has been one of the few forces prepared to speak out for those Serbs left in Kosovo. Many have turned to religion, but the nearest church is a long drive from the Simavic's apartment.

It's a journey they're too afraid to make.

Unlike his parents, Alexander is prepared to go out. Traditionally, this is a cafe society and even if most of Pristina's bars have been taken over by ethnic Albanians, he can't keep away from his old haunts.

"What Serbs have to do is to talk to their neighbours; it will take much time to heal what have been done to Albanians, but Serbs must take first step to do something about that.

"Albanians also must know that Kosovo without Serbs isn't possible and Albanians also have to respect Serbian tradition, have to respect monasteries like Karcanica from 13th, 14th century."

Looking for a 'normal future'

"Do you think the two sides can ever live together again after what's happened?"

"If I wouldn't believe in that, I wouldn't be around. Dreams about greater Albania and greater Serbia belongs to past. What we have to do now is to provide circumstances for normal future for all communities in Kosovo."

Just what future Serbs have in Kosovo is hard to tell. Alexander Simovic speaks English and hopes to find work with the UN, or one of the many NGO's now operating here. But whether the Simovics do stay in Kosovo, is likely to depend on NATO and the international community's ability to guarantee their safety.

This report was first broadcast on the BBC's World Service.

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